Vancouver was my “jewel-by-the-sea”

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach (March End), Vancouver, 1983

As promised, here begins a return to looking at photos from the Eighties Vancouver portfolio, or the stories behind them.

Last week, I wrote a brief review of the instrument used to make the “formal views” from the collection, a late ‘50s Mamiyaflex C-series medium format camera, bought in the spring of 1983.

In 2015, I used an image from one of the first rolls of film (Ilford FP4) run through the camera to illustrate an essay on Ansel Adams’ Zone System of exposure, since I had exposed what I now call Still Life With Typewriter according to Zone System theory (the last 3 exposures seen on the contact sheet below).

The first 9 frames on the 12-exposure roll were shot on Robson Street and at a peace march, culminating in an anti-nuke protest at Sunset Beach. Such events were common in proudly nuclear free Vancouver throughout the eighties, responding to US President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” fantasies.

Near the Aquatic Centre, I stopped to record the aftermath of the event, as participants packed up their protest signs. I released the shutter as two friends embraced beside a sign reading “Peace begins with me.” Though I recognized merit in the image many times over the years, the photo never made it past the develop and contact stage, until a couple of weeks ago.

Scanned, processed and printed digitally, it is now available as limited and open edition prints.

Walking back over the Burrard Bridge, I accosted a young couple, who were happy to sit — or rather stand — for a portrait. As I recall, they were very happy with the result, delivered to them shortly thereafter.

Indeed, I remember Vancouver in those days as a relative oasis of peace in a mad world — “my “jewel by the sea,” as I used to refer to it. Though it would be remiss to sanitize the city’s rough-and-tumble history, arising amidst the timber trade, and long-standing miseries of the Downtown Eastside, the idea was not overly romantic. Certainly, 30 years ago, the regional news was not dominated by reports of drive-by-shootings and drug overdoses that have tarnished Vancouver’s “Lotus Land” reputation.

And yet, where glass towers have not obstructed, the mountain skyline endures, unchanged but for the seasons that this time of year cloak them in a pure white coat of snow. In sunlight and at sunset, the city’s northern perimeter does indeed shine as bright as a necklace of diamonds throughout the winter.


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